Welcome to our latest series here at Last Word on Hockey. The Puck Drop Preview series takes you through each team as the season is fast approaching. The preview will focus on the narratives surrounding the team ending last year, during the offseason, and heading into the 2021-22 season. Puck Drop Preview also focuses on what the season has in store for each team from a roster and expectations perspective. Join us as we look at all 32 teams before the season starts. Today, we take a look at the 2021-22 Montreal Canadiens.
2021-22 Montreal Canadiens
The Canadiens entered the season after having one of the busiest and arguably best off-seasons of general manager Marc Bergevin‘s tenure. Bergevin went on a shopping spree, trading for Jake Allen, Joel Edmundson and Josh Anderson and then dipped into the free-agent market and signed Tyler Toffoli and Corey Perry. In a division formed of only Canadian teams, the Canadiens finished with a record of 24-21-11 which was good for fourth overall in the division and good enough to clinch the final playoff position in the North Division.
Facing the high-powered Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round, the Canadiens faced a 3-1 deficit when they made a miraculous comeback largely thanks to netminder Carey Price to defeat their bitter rivals in seven games. The Canadiens used that momentum to sweep the Winnipeg Jets and oust the Vegas Golden Knights in six games to reach the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1993. However, the Habs ran out of gas losing to the Tampa Bay Lightning in five games.
Newly acquired Tyler Toffoli led the team in goals and points during the regular season with 28 goals and 44 points. However, it was youngster Nick Suzuki who lead the way during the playoffs, potting seven goals and 16 points in 22 games.
The Canadiens offseason has had mixed reviews. They lost shut down defender Phillip Danault and Tomas Tatar in free agency, while also losing Jesperi Kotkaniemi after he signed an offer sheet from the Carolina Hurricanes. However, the Habs did add a fair bit of talent to their roster. Their two biggest signings were Mike Hoffman and David Savard, adding some scoring and a shutdown defender to the mix. They also added Mathieu Perreault, Cedric Paquette, Chris Wideman and more recently Sami Niku to the mix on one-year deals.
The biggest move for the Habs this offseason though was acquiring Christian Dvorak from the Arizona Coyotes. Dvorak will slot in behind Nick Suzuki as the club’s second-line centre. Dvorak scored 17 goals and 31 points in 56 games for the Coyotes last season.
Tyler Toffoli-Nick Suzuki-Cole Caufield
Jonathan Drouin-Christian Dvorak-Josh Anderson
Mike Hoffman-Jake Evans–Brendan Gallagher
Arturri Lehkonen-Ryan Poehling–Joel Armia
Mathieu Perreault-Cedric Paquette
The top six will see some new faces with newly acquired Christian Dvorak lining up as the second-line centre, as well as prize rookie scorer Cole Caufield slotting in next to Nick Suzuki and Tyler Toffoli. Caufield looked outstanding during the Habs Stanley Cup run, scoring four goals and 12 points in 20 games. Caufield and Suzuki showed excellent chemistry in the short sample size and will certainly look to build off that this coming season. Jonathan Drouin will return to the lineup as well after taking some time off after dealing with anxiety and insomnia and will help round out what should be an effective second-line with Christian Dvorak and Josh Anderson.
The bottom six will also see some new faces. Mike Hoffman being the most notable acquisition, which will give the Habs a very dangerous third line with Brendan Gallagher on the right-wing and Jake Evans at centre. The fourth line will be pretty familiar with Arturri Lehkonen and Joel Armia on the flanks with young centre Ryan Poehling as their pivot. Poehling will look to earn a spot on opening night and given his development over the past season, he looks ready to do so.
If Poehling does need more time in the NHL, the Habs already locked up more depth in Perrault and Paquette to answer the bell. The two will surely come in and out of the lineup as needed and are effective pieces to solidify the Canadiens offence.
Joel Edmundson-Jeff Petry
Ben Chiarot-David Savard
The top four will take a massive hit this season, losing Shea Weber for the season due to injury. The Canadiens tried to fill the void, signing David Savard, however, it’s extremely difficult to fill Shea Weber’s shoes. While Savard is a formidable defenceman, he’s just not Weber. However, the Canadiens top four still looks solid with the pairing of Joel Edmundson and Jeff Petry back together this season, and Ben Chiarot occupying the left side next to Savard.
The bottom pair is a tricky one. Right now it looks as though it will feature Brett Kulak and Alexander Romanov. However, this could change if one of Sami Niku, Kaiden Guhle or Mattias Norlinder end up winning a roster spot on opening night. We’re more likely to see Guhle head back to junior and Norlinder head back to Sweden to play with Frolunda for another season. Recently signed Sami Niku could end up being the seventh defenceman if he doesn’t beat out Brett Kulak for that final spot on the Habs opening night roster.
The goaltending situation for the Habs is a no-brainer. Carey Price and Jake Allen form one of the best duos in the NHL. Price may miss the start of the season, however, Allen is more than capable of handling the load as he proved last season helping carry the Canadiens to the postseason. Price turned back the clock during the postseason and the Habs will look for him to continue that run once he returns from injury this season.
Players to Watch
Drouin is certainly one of the key players to watch for the Canadiens this season. And everyone will be rooting for him. After taking some personal time to better his mental health, Drouin is back and feeling great and looks ready to go. Josh Anderson spoke about Drouin saying that he is one of the hardest-working players on the team and that no one loves hockey more than Drouin. He looked outstanding to open camp, flying around and scoring highlight-reel goals during the practice session. He’s a player who is certainly eager to get back on the ice, and one who could potentially break out this season.
Caufield is another name we need to keep an eye on this season. After proving he is ready to play in the NHL during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Caufield is looking to be the favourite for the Calder Trophy this season. No matter what level he’s playing at, Caufield always finds a way to score. He has that ability that you just can’t teach. Which is something the Canadiens have been missing for a long time. Trevor Zegras tweeted that his hot take for this season would be that Caufield will score 40 in his first season. Big ask, but definitely something Caufield is capable of. Especially playing next to Nick Suzuki.
40 goals for @colecaufield 👀 https://t.co/gMI5RUgVQy
— Trevor Zegras (@tzegras11) September 20, 2021
Prediction for the 2021-22 Montreal Canadiens
The Canadiens are a hard team to read for the upcoming season. With the divisions gone back to normal and the amount of turnover from each team during the offseason, the playoffs positions in the Atlantic Division are all up for grabs. Most would say Tampa Bay and Toronto would occupy the top two seeds, with Montreal, Florida and Boston fighting for the final position.
One thing the Canadiens have over those other teams, however, is Carey Price. At the top of his game, he’s arguably the best goaltender in the league. He proved during the Stanley Cup Playoffs that he still has the ability to steal games for the Habs. The Canadiens certainly have more scoring this season than they did last year, and although they lost Shea Weber, they still have a solid defence group. With that said, we predict the Habs will grab one of the Wild Card positions in the Eastern Conference to earn their way into a dance for Lord Stanley’s Cup.